Is America Losing Its Faith?
By: Warner Todd Huston
“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.” –Samuel Adams
“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind…” –Thomas Paine
“…[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” –Benjamin Franklin
Americans are losing their faith. Not their faith in God or religion, though that is slackening as well, but their faith in the essential rightness of America itself. Until recently Americans were quite sure of the basic truths upon which we are formed and the basic righteousness of those truths. Unfortunately, many of us are no longer sure of our “givenness”, as Daniel Boorstin so famously termed it.
It’s easy to peg the degradation of that surety to the counter culture of the 1960′s, of course. The Sixties was a watershed decade for self-doubt, but the doubting began decades before, during the great age of socialist theorizing that swept the world in the early 1900′s. Though seemingly immune from socialist practice and politics, we Americans none-the-less fostered reflection on such ideas in our Universities and from the realm of philosophy, history and art our educated elite accepted the concept of relative thinking — perhaps we weren’t really so good after all. By mid century, when William F. Buckley wrote his famous lament about Yale, it seemed that those educators sanguine of American exceptionalism were far and few between. It has gotten no better by the start of this new century as anyone who knows of David Horowitz’s work could easily realize.
There was a time not long ago when, to European eyes, both major American political Parties seemed nearly indistinguishable one from the other. There was a reason for that, too. It was because both parties agreed that America was a righteous place differing only on the various technical means to sustain that righteousness. They agreed that our basic ideals were good and both believed that the U.S. Constitution was to be interpreted conservatively as opposed to loosely. Not only were our principles, conventions, and procedures good but they were the best ever conceived by the mind of man. Perhaps even the best that ever could be imagined.
Today, Europeans would find one Party, the Democratic, to seem far more like a Party they would be familiar with in their own country. The Democratic Party has, since the McGovern nomination for his Party’s candidacy in 1974, been drifting from a belief in American exceptionalism to one doubting such assuredness. The Party does not believe that America is good, but that it must be remade into a new nation, one governed by early 20th century European sensibilities instead of the ideas of our Founding Fathers.
Of course, this isn’t a sentiment shared by every — maybe not even most — rank and file Democrats yet today. However, it is one sponsored by Party leadership and Party theorists. But that it has gotten to nearly every last Party bigwig and policy wonk is indicative of the distance to which this self-doubt has crept into the American mainstream. A proof of this is the way conservative democratic Zell Miller (Senate, Georgia) was treated as a pariah by the Democratic Party. This is not to say that such self-doubt doesn’t exist at all outside of Democratic Party operatives, a notion that will easily be disabused by a glimpse at the many leftist websites. But it is certainly spreading.
Of course, that spreading cancer in the American heart is what so many Conservatives are responding to. And that is why the conflict has escalated so loudly since Reagan arrived to infuse the conservative movement with purpose and legitimacy. Naturally, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and American conservatism is a vital and strong reaction to American doubt coming from the left. We can only hope that Conservatism is a surgeon with a deft enough scalpel to remove that cancer.
Unfortunately, though, that cancer has metastasized in many areas of American life. It has infected our schools, our entertainment — from movies to literature and poetry — our news providers and even our religious community in many ways. It will take more than one surgeon for the task, to say the least.
So, what, then, do we do? How can we return to a belief in ourselves?
Because of the diversity that has always been America, it is harder to identify how to fix it than it is to identify what is going wrong. After all, that diversity is one of the things that made this country the juggernaut that it is. But, even with the diversity we have always so valued, there have been things that remained constant contributing to our greatness across this land.
Certainly there are and have been many regions of this country where one would find a foreign language in great abundance. Cincinnati, Ohio saw a large German community in the mid to late 1800′s. Texas and points southwest always embraced Spanish. The Swedes were plentiful in Minnesota. Creole was heard as much as English in Louisiana and Alabama. Chicago, Illinois has claimed the largest Polish community outside of the country of Poland itself. But, none of these languages were expected to supplant or take higher importance to English. English was the defacto American language. Today, however, we have allowed that supremacy to be eroded by including other languages on official documentation, and by foisting so-called “bi-lingual” education upon our children in our grade schools.
A reliance on English as the national language will re-focus immigrants and residents alike on being American. Proficiency in English will again become a badge of citizenship and will foster a feeling of unity and homogeneity, as well it should. There is nothing wrong with speaking more than one language, but since we are that famous “melting-pot” by design using English as a common tongue is all the more important. It serves as a glue holding us together, a common bond.
Ben Franklin said that, â€œHistory will afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantages of a religious character among private persons; the mischiefs of superstition, etc., and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others ancient or modern.â€
Religion underlies nearly every aspect of America and its history. Every founder can be quoted to present religion, belief in God, and the moral precepts of Christianity as essential to the American way of life and the pursuit of virtue. Even the Founders that many today call Deists can be so quoted, though they may have eschewed organized religion.
If we are to continue down the road of excising religion from American life, we will undermine the basic ideas of our laws and society. Excising religion from our schools is a dangerous game and will do nothing but end up teaching our children that only men should be relied on in life, that there is nothing greater than themselves. And that is a nihilist notion that this country will not long survive.
Of course, we are also a land of tolerance toward multiple religions. We do not have to focus solely on the Christian religion, but it is a grave mistake to attack it above all others. It informs our culture, not just American but all of western society.
Today, fewer and fewer Americans understand how our civil government works. Too many citizens lack even a basic understanding of the Constitution and the history that led to our countryâ€™s founding. This must be reversed and we must return to teaching such things in our schools.
Americans are jealous of their rights, and that is as it should be. But, as John Milton said –”None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.â€ Yet, just what is â€œlibertyâ€, or â€œfreedomâ€, or our â€œrightsâ€? It is what our rights really entail that is so often misunderstood by the clenched fisted, caterwauling, yahoo braying that others are violating his â€œrightsâ€. Usually, he is utterly ignorant that he is actually violating the rights of everyone around him, not to mention being a societal nuisance.
We must return to teaching our children what their â€œrightsâ€ entail, what they mean as well as where they come from. Children must be taught that their own rights end where otherâ€™s rights begin. So should everyone else, for that matter.
Great Men of History
Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, â€œThere is properly no history; only biographyâ€, and nothing could be truer of the history of the United States. We are absolute proof of the â€œGreat manâ€ theory of history; that every time hinges on the actions of great men.
This trend of moving away from teaching our young about our great national heroes and personages is a huge mistake especially when replaced by lesser individuals or foreigners. Without a feeling for what we have done as a people, we cannot expect our citizens to have a feeling for where we are headed â€¦ or should be headed.
We donâ€™t have to settle for the â€œdead white manâ€™s clubâ€ of history, but to turn away from those same â€œwhite menâ€ is a slight to our national struggle and the character it built. We have a whole array of great people in our rich American history so there is no need to sanitize or employ â€œequal opportunityâ€ for a program on US history.
We should not slight our children the example that these great people of history offer us, to inspire as well as teach.
While we are discussing educating ourselves about our great national heroes — and I mean real heroes, not sports stars and movie actors — we need to revamp our educational system otherwise, as well. Math, economics, science, classic literature, history, writing and reading, these are the subjects we need to impart to our nationâ€™s students. â€œWomenâ€™s studiesâ€, â€œminority studiesâ€, or â€œgay studiesâ€ are fine for specialty research for extremely small and focused groups of people, but to have them as highly funded departments, or worse yet, required courses, is simply an absurd waste of money and our studentâ€™s valuable learning time.
While we are patting ourselves on the back with such wastes of time, other countries are graduating students with high degrees in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. All the while, our students fall farther and farther behind. This is a crime of education and we will deserve our second-class status if we allow this to continue.
Even as far as we have slid as a country, we are still the most generous people on Earth. But our government is beginning to put a major crimp in that generosity. Until the last 30 years, America grew strong by local communities gathering to build their community through donation of time and money of the locals. People raised schools, churches, and libraries by urging their citizens and neighbors to join the community in the effort to improve for the good of all.
Culture was spread by thousands of small clubs and gatherings in every last community across the country. Famed reformer, Jane Addams, of Chicagoâ€™s Hull-House spent her days in the early 1900â€™s helping poor young women engage in self-improvement through work, literature and fellowship. She did so through all private donation and volunteerism. But, today, fewer and fewer people engage in such community conscious activities. It has become a venue only for the rich or the highly religious.
Too many citizens look to their own selfish desires because, after all, what are they paying the government all those taxes for? Americans today feel that all schools or community organizations should be sponsored and paid for by the government. This is destroying the sense of community we once had and should have still.
Government is too involved in our everyday lives. It is removing our sense of responsibility past paying taxes. We need to rekindle a sense of camaraderie with our neighbors and take such responsibilities back from government.
In closing, I should like to urge every American to cast away that self-doubt. Yes, we have been responsible for perpetrating some bad things; we will probably make a few more mistakes yet. But, when comparing all the good that we have done in this world to that of any other people, one can easily see that we have far outshone the rest. When discovering the â€œbadâ€ that we have done in the last 200 and more years, a little perspective is warranted lest you think we come out the worse for comparison.
We are â€œthat shinning city on a hillâ€ of Reagan and Witherspoonâ€™s vision. Never forget it and never let anyone say different without challenge.